"YOU WOULDN'T be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair."
"But'cha are, Blanche. Ya are in that chair."
Well, even the most casual movie fan could not fail to recognize that famous exchange between invalid Joan Crawford and crazy-as-a-bedbug Bette Davis in the 1962 shocker, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane." The movie, directed by Robert Aldrich, revitalized the careers of Miss Crawford and Miss Davis. Alas, they were revitalized into increasingly sub-par material of the same sort, and these films began a trend for actresses of a certain age being terrorized or much worse on screen. Even Barbara Stanwyck had her moment in this genre. (Although unlike the moist-eyed Crawford, Miss Stanwyck was never a terribly convincing victim -- of anything.)
Miss Davis eventually eased out of this sort of stuff and regained her industry standing in a series of fine television movies. Miss Crawford, who was unfairly considered not as good an actress as Davis, didn't escape the terror trap and did not live long enough to pursue other opportunities.
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" was re-made for television in 1991, starring real-life sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave. It was interesting but didn't hold a candle to the original black-and-white Grand Guignol.
Now comes word that director Walter Hill is planning to re-make "Baby Jane" on the big screen. He has the approval of the family of Robert Aldrich who owned the material.
One suspects the story will be slightly updated. Maybe the two twisted sisters will be stars of '60s/'70s rather than the '30s as Joan and Bette played them. Or even of the 1980s. Hard to believe but the '80s were a long time ago. And if that was the case, who better to play the demented Jane but Miss Joan Collins? She could pull out all those over-the-top Nolan Miller gowns and have a ball. (Joan Collins, like Joan Crawford, is an underrated actress, often sabotaged by her glamour.)
As for the crippled Blanche, we must go straight to the woman who has defined the female actor for the past 30 years -- Meryl Streep. It's all still in the preliminary stages, but it is such fun to talk about!
I HAVE yet to see the new historical drama, "Farewell, My Queen," which tells the tale of Marie Antoinette and her ladies-in-waiting during the final days of the French Revolution. I will see it, because Antoinette's tale holds an endless fascination.
In the movie, director Benoit Jacquot posits the old canard that Queen Marie and the delicious Gabrielle de Polignac were lovers. It was this sort of unsubstantiated rumor that helped send Antoinette to her death on the guillotine. But ... it's artistic license and based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, anyway.
But something more significant did rattle me. Diane Kruger plays Marie. In the August issue of Details magazine, the actress is interviewed by John Sellers. He asks her: "Marie Antoinette was famously beheaded, your character in "Inglorious Basterds," Bridget, was strangled to death. Who died better?"
Kruger replies: "Bridget. If I could help kill Hitler and die for that noble cause, that would be great. To be beheaded because you didn't own up to your responsibilities? That seems like a cowardly way to go."
Oh, Miss Kruger! Obviously, you read the script of "Farewell, My Queen." Did you read any history? Did you know Marie was essentially pimped off by her own mother at age 14 to wed and bed the lumpish Louis XVI of France? But that the bed part had to wait seven long years? And in that period, her frantic love of pleasure -- shopping, theater, jewels, clothes -- became something of a mania, as she had no other outlet? No tenderness, no passion, no children. But when Louis finally overcame his problem, and Marie began to have children -- two of whom would die before her -- she devoted herself mostly to them, restrained her costuming, as much as a queen can, and did her best to guide her hapless husband as France fell apart.
She was born a princess and became a queen. That was her life. She never traveled. She never saw the sea. She couldn't really understand poverty, having never known want, but she was not known to be uncaring. (She never said, "Let them eat cake!")
The last few years of her life were a physical and mental torture -- her husband dead, her remaining children torn from her, accused of every monstrous crime, including incest, ravaged beyond her 38 years. She welcomed death when it came and she was courageous to the very end. Even her bitterest enemies had to admire her spirit.
No, I don't own shares in the Versailles tourist trade! I just found Miss Kruger's remark unfeeling and uneducated about a woman who still holds such power on our imagination, several hundred years after her death. (Francine du Plessix Gray has a new Antoinette book out, "The Queen's Lover," a fictional take on Marie's friendship with the handsome Swede, Count Axel von Fersen. Nobody knows for sure if they became lovers, though most historians hope they did, given the queen's unhappy life.)
Still, maybe I'll love "Farewell, My Queen" and forgive the talented star. (Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" grew on me after a few years.) But, we might ask Diane Kruger -- would you care to imagine how brave you'd be standing at the guillotine? Less impressive than Marie Antoinette, I'd venture.
HOW MANY of you caught it, inside the new issue of Vanity Fair? Alec Baldwin is on the cover, looking absolutely adorable. Inside, the article by Todd Purdum opens with a shot of Alec relaxing. He's wearing a tux shirt undone, no pants, and is resting his legs -- in socks and garter -- on a chair. What it took me a while to notice, perhaps because the chair is white, is that he is also wearing a very smart pair of white high heels. It's so casual. It's hilarious. The photo is by Norman Jean Roy. But unfortunately, there's no clue as to who -- as they say on the red carpet -- he's wearing on his tootsies. They look like Ferragamo.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)